Phoebe Robinson is a writer, stand-up comedian and actress. Robinson, along with Jessica Williams, created and hosts the “2 Dope Queens” podcast, which grew to become four hour-long HBO specials. She also hosts the “Sooo Many White Guys” podcast. Robinson’s written two books, “You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain” and “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay,” which was published this month. She was a staff writer for the last season of “Portlandia” and appeared on TBS’s “Search Party.” Robinson will be performing Thursday, Oct. 25, at this year’s Bentzen Ball comedy fest in Washington D.C.
The Lily chatted with Bentzen Ball comedians via text and phone calls ahead of the festival, which runs Oct. 25-28.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Nneka McGuire: So, first of all, congratulations on the forthcoming book. And I know you’re going to be in a movie with Taraji P. Henson also, right? So that’s exciting.
Phoebe Robinson: Yessss. Ugh, she’s the best. She’s so cool and pretty and every day onset I was just staring at her like a full weirdo. She’s like super dope and I’m really excited. It’s called “What Men Want” and it’s a super funny romantic comedy.
NM: And when is the movie coming out?
PR: It’s coming out February 8th.
NM: So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Bentzen Ball and how you got involved. Can you tell me the story of coming together with Tig Notaro and all the other awesome folks who are going to be in the show?
PR: Yeah. [Jessica Williams] and I did Bentzen Ball maybe three years ago. And obviously anyone who’s done stand-up, as I have, you know, Tig is just so inspiring and someone you just want to work with. So yeah we got invited to the festival and we had a super fun time, and this was right when we were starting “2 Dope Queens,” even before the podcast, just when it was a live show. So we did that. And then when Tig worked on the “2 Dope Queens” specials for season one, we just fell so much in love with her even more and she’s awesome, so to be coming back to Bentzen Ball — after basically starting “2 Dope Queens” as a thing — there in D.C. feels really cool.
NM: Yeah, it’s like you’ve come kind of full circle in a way. Tell me about one of the essays from the book that you’re most proud of and why.
PR: Oh, gosh, that’s a great question. I think I’m proud of all of them in individual ways. I think, probably tied for first is the feminism essay, just because I think anyone who’s a woman, who’s queer, who’s a person color, you might have a complicated relationship with feminism and how it’s not necessarily as intersectional as we would all like. And so it was really, I think, important for me, who has been sort of — you know, ever since I had my blog back in 2012, 2011, I was just like, ‘yeah, I’m a feminist, yeah, I’m a feminist.’ And that’s really cool and the rah rah stuff is dope and yas yas yas. But I think to not also own up to the fact that there’s some things about feminism that need some working on, and to not own that experience that I have internally as a black woman, I think would have been dishonest.
So I really like that I was able to write about it in a real and honest way. And I think that when people read it, hopefully they will be able to feel more comfortable if they have any sort of critiques, valid critiques of feminism, to sort of express those, hoping the reception will not be so combative if they say something other than, ‘feminism is perfect.’ And then the other essay I’m really proud of was the ‘how to be alone’ essay.’ I think that a lot of times when you get older, especially if you’re a woman, you come out of a relationship — or you’ve just been single for a while — there is this kind of notion that you’re supposed to hate your life. Or that there’s clearly something with you if you’re choosing to not date. And so I [thought], let me just write an essay about how I kind of work through being stressed out about being single to kind of being like, all right, well if I’m spending all this energy on trying to get a boyfriend, am I spending even one-tenth of that energy on getting to know myself? And often I think the answer is no for a lot of people.
NM: I was reading Rebecca Traister’s new book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” and it got me thinking about how women don’t always talk about the things we’re mad about. Can you tell me one thing that you’re really angry about right now?
PR: Okay, this is kind of ridiculous, but I am 1,000 percent furious whenever a white man cuts me off as he’s walking down the street. It happens to all my friends all the time and we’re always just getting cut off by white dudes, and we’re like, what the hell bro? I’m here on the street, taking up space. Why are you cutting me off? So that’s a low-level one.
And the thing that I’m really just mad about, on a more serious note, is there’s a lot of Me Too stuff happening right now, which is amazing, and I find that there’s a lot of people missing the point. And a lot of people, a lot of men, being like, ‘Well, now I don’t feel like I can be in the same room with a woman.’ And it’s like, if you don’t think you can be in a room with a woman without sexually assaulting her, that is not a fault of hers, that’s a defect in you.
And they’re trying to turn it back on women and [say things like] ‘Well, women are the problem. I don’t know if I can ask a woman on a date,’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t f------ know how to ask a woman out for a meal and you’re in your 30s? What have you been doing? What have you been taught?’ And so I think there needs to be some sort of ownership over what’s going on with Me Too. I think there needs to be some sort of self-reflection. And I think there needs to not be a hyper-corrective, extreme sort of reaction where [men say], ‘I don’t know, I just don’t want to get accused of anything.’ Women aren’t just running around being like, let me just muck up my life and cause all this heartbreak and have to go through this trauma just so I can give some guy a hard time.
And I think there needs to be less dismissiveness when it comes to sexual abuse and sexual assault and women who want to speak out and take the power back — we should not be like, well you have to suffer in silence because it’s going to make men uncomfortable. I think that’s done. I think we’re done with that. I don’t care if a guy feels comfortable or not, you have to respect women’s bodies, their agency. And if you can’t, then you have to reflect on that and don’t try and make it like Me Too is a witch hunt, because it’s not.
NM: What are you watching? What is some of the media you’re consuming that revvs you up and brings you joy?
PR: Okay so, I do watch a decent about of reality TV, which I know is not the best thing in the world. I’m fully obsessed with “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It is, I think such a great show and an important show in pop culture. I think there are so many people who have never been exposed to queer people, who haven’t been exposed to drag culture, who maybe have been exposed to it and didn’t really understand, outside of just seeing the lip sync, not really understanding the sort of cultural significance it holds, and how for a lot of people it has been a safe haven for them to express their creativity when society rejects them.
And I think it’s a wonderful message of, if you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love anybody else? Can I get an amen? That is something that everybody should live by. You’ve gotta love yourself first. That’s a really hard thing, but I just really like the message, I think it’s great.
I’m also 1,000 percent obsessed with “Master Chef.” I love cooking shows. I love cooking competition shows. My boyfriend is British and so Gordon Ramsey — although he’s Scottish, he kind of sounds British, for some reason, he has like a little bit of an accent for me that always makes me think of my boyfriend, so I always get happy about that. And in terms of scripted stuff, I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. The last two movies I saw were “Crazy Rich Asians” which I was so obsessed with and cried so much. It was such a beautiful, perfect romantic comedy, and “BlacKKKlansmen,” which also made me cry but just because you’re like, damn, it feels like we have not learned anything from the past. Really. When it’s a movie starring a woman that I’m interested in or movies starring queer people or movies starring people of color that I really want to see, I really try and see it opening weekend so I can contribute to the box office.
NM: I just have one more question from you. So I know you have met some of your idols. You have met Bono twice. You’ve met Oprah. But is there anybody else that you’ve got to in your remaining days on earth?